Don Millhouse, a popular police sergeant, made an unusual appearance at the Missoula Park Board’s monthly meeting on Feb. 3, 1976.
He was there with a request from the Missoula Police Protective Association. A city park near the westbound on- and off-ramps of Interstate 90 at Van Buren Street was the only one in town without a name, and Millhouse said it should be given one in honor of Sgt. Don Gregory.
It had been exactly one week since Gregory died of a shotgun blast accidentally leveled by his partner while attempting to arrest a 21-year-old man in the basement of a Westside home.
Gregory was the first officer on the Missoula police force to die in the line of duty since 1931, when Alexander Ross was shot at point-blank range on the Higgins Avenue bridge while marching to jail a man he’d seen run off from a gas station without paying.
Gregory, 31, was a Navy veteran who was born in Missoula and attended school in Drummond. He’d served more than eight years with the police department and was promoted to sergeant in March 1974. His brother Clayton was also a Missoula police officer. Gregory left a wife and two daughters at the family home on Mount Avenue, and two daughters in Minnesota from a previous marriage.
Millhouse said the police association planned to contribute $500 to the park for a sign “or whatever purpose the city would prefer,” reporter Carol Van Valkenburg’s story from the park board meeting said.
But board member French Kellogg said there was a snag. The board had already agreed to let students at nearby Prescott School name the park. A contest was under way at the school for that purpose.
Park Supt. Garry Kryszak “said he would study the situation to see if any other parks would be suitable. But he said he knows of no others that are unnamed,” Van Valkenburg said.
Prescott students resolved the dilemma themselves.
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“Prescott School children have chosen to name a park on Vine Street in honor of the late Police Sgt. Don Gregory,” Van Valkenburg wrote after the March meeting. “Sixth-graders Robert Kelley and Dean Bears came to a Park Board meeting Tuesday night with the results of a vote taken by the student body.”
Principal Gerry Ashmore told the board by letter of the students’ decision.
"I think we thought of Gregory Memorial Park or Gregory Park," Kelley told the board.
The Police Protective Association agreed to pay for the costs and to perform the labor for the installation of a planter that would hold flowers and carry the name of the park, which contained and still does tennis and basketball courts.
Sgt. Don Gregory Park it became, and 43 years later, Sgt. Don Gregory Park it remains, on either side of the new roundabout on Van Buren.
Today Gregory’s name is also one of nine on the Missoula Law Enforcement Memorial on the south, or Mount Avenue, end of Memorial Rose Park.
“If for no other reason, it will be a constant reminder to our officers that the community genuinely cares and supports them,'' Sheriff Doug Chase said at the dedication on May 17, 2000. “I think it's certainly fitting that those families who have lost law enforcement officers over the years have a memorial for their loved ones.''
The marker is less than two blocks from the Mount Avenue home Gregory walked out of for his final shift in 1976.